Touchstone Story #36–Lions in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Lions came to Latin America in March 1927 with the chartering of a new club in Nuevo Laredo on Mexico’s northern border with the United States. Three months later, Lions expanded to Havana, Cuba.

The next two decades saw explosive growth across the region. Lions charter dates tell the story: Panama (1935), Guatemala (1941), El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua (1942), Venezuela (1943), Peru (1944), Columbia (1945), Ecuador (1946), Chile and Bolivia (1948).

These early clubs were marked by large membership rolls and traditional Latin exuberance. By 1941, the Havana club ranked as the largest in the world with 900 members. And the Colon Lions Club in Panama celebrated its Charter Night with “a good orchestra, colored balloons, and assorted noise-makers,” LION Magazine reported in its October 1935 issue.

Latin American Lions soon took on leadership roles in the organization, hosting the International Convention in Mexico City in 1935 and contributing their first international president, Dr. Ramiro Collazo of Havana, in 1945. The first Spanish-language Lions magazine, Los Leones, debuted in 1935 in preparation for the convention in Mexico City. Its successor, El Leon, has been publishing since 1944 and now reaches more than 47,000 readers in Latin America.

By the early 1950s, Lions were serving all across South America with expansion to Uruguay (1951), Brazil and Paraguay (1952), and Argentina (1954). The island nations of the Caribbean, including those that gained independence in the 1960s, were next in line to welcome Lions led by Barbados (1961), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent (1964), and Jamaica and Grenada (1965).

Lions’ work in Latin America and the Caribbean is as diverse as the region’s peoples and cultures. And their work has had a profound and lasting impact. In Mexico, for example, Lions have built and equipped hundreds of schools since the 1940s. Lions have also answered the call when disasters strike, most recently playing a significant role in providing aid to victims of the massive 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

But the most spectacular Lions achievement of recent decades may be the near-complete elimination of onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, from the Americas. Transmitted by biting flies near warm-water rivers, the parasitic disease had been endemic in parts of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela, putting more than 600,000 people at risk.

Working with the Carter Center and other project partners since 1999, Lions Clubs International Foundation has contributed US$6.3 million to fight river blindness in Latin America with local Lions providing logistical support and community outreach.

With the Lions’ help, in 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world to eradicate river blindness, according to the World Health Organization. Ecuador was declared free of the disease in 2014. Mexico and Guatemala have broken the cycle of infection as well, and as of 2015, were close to verifiable eradication. The disease persists in isolated places in Brazil and Venezuela, but hopefully not for long, thanks to the dedicated Lions of Latin America.

Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. Don’t forget to share these stories with new members so they gain an understanding of Lions history?


Improve and Expand Implementation and Student Outcomes

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Lions Quest continues partnership with NoVo Foundation

Lions Quest, Lions Clubs International Foundation’s (LCIF) social and emotional learning (SEL) program, aims to teach life skills and positive youth development strategies. Thanks to the recent award of a US$450,000 from the NoVo Foundation, Lions Quest continues to expand their efforts in the fast-growing Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District (EMS-ISD) in Texas, USA. The program also benefits a diverse racial and socio-economic population; more than 40 percent of students qualify as economically disadvantaged or low-income, and more than 35 languages are spoken in the district.

This is the third grant Lions Quest received from the NoVo Foundation. Advancing social and emotional learning is a priority support area for NoVo Foundation given its mission to foster a transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership. Previous awards for US$300,000 in 2014 and US$100,000 in 2011 bring the total received by LCIF to US$850,000.

The newest award of US$450,000 is to continue to expand in EMS and develop new and innovative tools that will help implementers – and consequently, more kids – worldwide. LCIF will develop new resources to assist educators, making sure that the program has the maximum possible impact. The tools piloted under this grant will be tested for effectiveness and then disseminated to the hundreds of schools using the program each year.

For more information, visit www.lions-quest.org.

Leos in Amsterdam

Gewoon Oranje: 2017 Leo Europa Forum

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August was a busy month for Leos across the world. Constitutional Areas I/II, III and IV hosted annual Leo area forums. Organizers of the 2017 Leo Europa Forum (LEF) Vince Van de Weijer and Pieter Haex share their thoughts on why Europe’s long-established Leo area forum is so special.

Don’t miss out on upcoming international Leo events! For a list of events near you, check out the Leo events webpage.

Why is LEF such a great event?

The highest number of participants and delegations in years. Leos from outside of Europe. The Lions Centennial Celebration. 60 years of Leos. All of these elements came together for a sold-out event filled with a huge amount of positivity, energy and fun. As with every year, it was a great week. For us, one that we will never forget!

What inspired you to lead this event?

The opportunity to organize a LEF comes once in a Leo lifetime. Therefore, it is unique. Having experienced and participated in a few LEFs ourselves, we wanted to organize it; to show our country, to offer an opportunity for our Leo friends to see each other and give them the best possible week ever!

What was the most memorable part of the event?

Highlights (and therefore most memorable) were the gala, the centennial celebration and the social activity in the zoo. In addition, the opening ceremony was completely different than in previous years and hence unforgettable. And the Fun Presentation of Countries [an evening in which each country delegation hosts a table with local food and drink], like always, was one of the best evenings. Its spontaneity is indescribable and at the same moment one of the best LEF feelings.

To read more about experiences from the 2017 Leo Europa Forum, check out this article written by LEF attendee Alexander Kölpien of Germany.


Witnessing Lions’ Service in Action

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Dear Lions,

I recently had the distinct privilege of visiting areas of Texas, USA, that were severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey. As I was preparing for the trip, I knew I wanted to do more than just see Texas. I wanted to do something meaningful. I wanted to serve. More importantly, I wanted to serve alongside my fellow Lions, people who value service just as much as I do.

You see, I’ve been a Lion for nearly 40 years. In that time, I’ve held a lot of offices within the Lions organization, from club president all the way up to international president. But no matter my title, I have always been a Lion. And I am a Lion because I know that community service – whether local, global or both – is my duty. I began this journey because I wanted to help people. The journey continues because being a Lion allows me to fulfill my duty in ways bigger than I ever imagined.

If you have never seen the aftermath of a hurricane, let me paint a picture for you. There are roads entirely submerged underwater, leaving towns accessible only by boat. When the sun sets, there is  darkness in places where electricity hasn’t yet been restored. Playgrounds and hospitals, once beacons within their communities, are now barely visible. Water rose 25 feet in some places! What once were lovely homes are now just piles of rubble, and I was overcome thinking of how these people have lost everything they spent their lives building. The quiet can be deafening. But not for long, because the flurry of yellow vests get right to work!

I spent several days with district governors and international directors from the affected districts (A-3, S-1, S-2 and S-4), which stretch a few hundred miles. We toured an area by boat. Then, I donned a pair of combat boots and got my hands dirty. Interestingly, the boots were from a batch donated by the Cinco Ranch Lions Club, which was inaugurated during my year as international president. We quickly got to work unloading trucks full of supplies and stocking a Lions distribution center. I spoke personally with people who lost everything to the hurricane, offering them what comforting words I could find. I met families living in shelters supported by Lions, unsure of what was next for them.  It was a powerful reminder of my commitment to serve.

It was a busy few days with plenty of hard work, loading and unloading trucks, organizing aisles of donated items, and distributing those items to the people who need them most. I can’t help but look back on this experience and wonder how those people are faring now. They have so much work ahead of them, but I know that Lions have given them some comfort and some respite. I am so honored to be one of those Lions.

It is often said that Lions’ strength is that they are right there, living in the communities that need them. There are two reasons for this: 1) Lions know exactly what their communities need and 2) Lions remain in the communities, continuing to serve for as long as they are needed. But that also means that Lions are often affected by the very same disasters from which they are providing relief. And yet, there they are, serving their communities and neighboring communities, more worried about other people than themselves. This generosity of heart – this very essence of Lionism – will stay with me forever.

Thank you, Lions, for your unending service to your communities, for always answering the call and serving with a smile. Thank you, also, for your generous support of LCIF, your foundation. Together, we continue to make this world a better place for everyone, one family, one community, at a time.


Chancellor Bob Corlew
Chairman, Lions Clubs International Foundation

Lions distributing relief supplies after Hurricane Irma

LCIF Helps Communities Prepare for Disasters in Advance

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Recently, natural disasters have been devastating communities around the world, including hurricanes in the U.S. and the Caribbean, flooding in Japan and South Asia, and earthquakes in Mexico. Not to mention, wildfires continue to ravage multiple states in the western U.S. While Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has distributed disaster grants to help the affected communities clean up and rebuild, there are also grants that can be utilized to prepare for disasters ahead of time.

For areas that are prone to natural disasters, Disaster Preparedness Grants are especially valuable. Being prepared for a disaster can save lives. Lions around the world have used these grants for disaster training, creating a stock of supplies, and community education. In addition, these grants can provide advance support for first responders, food banks, medical facilities, and shelters.

District governors can apply for Disaster Preparedness Grants for their communities once every three years. Grants awarded are between US$5,000 and US$10,000 and districts must contribute 10% of the funds.

Having an emergency plan and a stock of supplies can make sure that families are fed when flood waters wash away their homes. It can help the community know how to respond in an earthquake to avoid injury. Being prepared for a disaster saves lives.

If you think your community could be better prepared for a disaster, talk to your district governor about a Disaster Preparedness Grant from LCIF!


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